We’re living in a golden age for snooker, but as with most previous golden ages most people won’t realise until it’s over.

The access to watching snooker tournaments now is greater than it’s ever been. You only have to go back a decade to a time where events outside the UK never made the TV back home and fans had to follow Teletext scores instead of instant live scoring.

Yes, there really was a time before Eurosport’s blanket coverage, before live streaming, before Twitter, where people go to fulminate if they miss so much as a break-off shot, before blogs and forums and the endless chatter that surrounds modern sport.

The more you give people, the more complacent they become. History, though, tells us how lucky we are.

Let me take you back, way back, to a distant place known as 2003. You may have read about it.

The 2002/03 season had begun in acrimony and rancour. So far, this does not distinguish it in any way from any other season.

The players, egged on by their associates, rejected the Altium offer to bankroll the circuit and handed control instead to a couple of chancers on a ten-year contract.

This contract would be torn up after less than a year due to their failure to deliver but it included a guarantee of eight ranking tournaments.

With money tight (it tends to be when you turn it down) and tobacco sponsorship about to exit ashtray-right, putting on new events was going to be difficult.

However, the WPBSA encouraged the organiser of the Irish Masters to turn his event into a ranking tournament and they then struck on the bright idea of staging the European Open not, as was traditional, on the continent but in a hotel in Torquay.

Believe me, any Fawlty Towers references you can think of were trotted out with great regularity back then.

The kicker was that there would be no TV coverage at all. There was to be no web streaming either.

So the tournament unfolded in almost complete anonymity, which was a great shame because it produced one of the sport’s best finals that decade and with it one of Ronnie O’Sullivan’s best performances full stop.

O’Sullivan was in a happy place generally at this point and had just got back into running, which gave him an outlet outside of snooker. He seemed relaxed in Torquay, perhaps because there were no demands from TV, and played some brilliant snooker to reach the final.

And the final was a classic. His opponent was Stephen Hendry, who had just returned to form by winning the Welsh Open in fine style.

A marker was laid down as to the standard in the opening frame, which O’Sullivan won with a 140 total clearance. He made another century, 126, and three half centuries to arrive at the interval leading 5-2. Hendry, for his part, had made a break of 101.

He also made 88 in the first frame of the final session before O’Sullivan delivered another total clearance, a 142 total clearance.

Hendry, always so dangerous in adversity, fought back as he so often had before, a 117 the highlight as he reduced his arrears to 6-5.

But with two more big breaks, O’Sullivan emerged victorious at 9-6.

And he was satisfied, not just to win the title but to do it so well against Hendry, an old foe and the player he most looked up to.

Very few people watched this match. Two of them were Ray Reardon and Tony Knowles, who afterwards made comments to a local newspaper to the effect that there wasn’t enough safety play.

When you can pot everything, safety isn’t quite as necessary. It was indicative of how snooker had changed, for the better most, if not Reardon and Knowles, would argue.

Feeling good and with his game back in shape, O’Sullivan went on to win another excellent final, beating John Higgins 10-9 at the Irish Masters.

What a shame hardly anyone saw what O’Sullivan still regards as one of his finest triumphs.

It would be different today. One of the most significant of all Barry Hearn’s innovations could turn out to be liveworldsnooker.tv. It already shows PTCs and qualifiers exclusively and were there occasions where no broadcaster could be found for a future event, could be the place to watch it.

It doesn’t hurt to remember that it wasn’t always like this.


jamie brannon said...

They also contested a high standard British Open final that year, it was during a period where it was the sport's ultimate match-up: the greatest against the best talent.

Was the first tournament on British television from abroad the 1996 World Cup in Thailand? The BBC showed it and my dad still raves about Mike Hallett's commentary on it!

wild said...

Great post

i lived through the 80s watched snooker and for that matter finals mainly in highlight packages.

one of the 80s most memerable and talked of finals the 1983 UK Between Davis and Higgins was concluded as a highlight at gone midnight on the sunday. no Live Coverage at all.

The only Time they showed the concluding session of a Final Live on the BBC Was the World Championship Back Then.

Snooker Fans today dont know they born with the coverage available.

jamie brannon said...

I didn't watch snooker in the eighties, but the game we have seen ever since Hendry shook up the playing conventions seems a more entertaining, high excellence and engrossing sport than we had in the 'boom years'.

However, the only worry for the future might be that every player plays in such an attacking manner that the sport becomes a bit one-dimensional.

There is something to be said for having more methodical players on the circuit, a clash of styles always makes for a captivating tussle in any sport.

However, watching two attacking players going toe-to-toe is still the main delight, and that is what made the late-nineties/early noughties clashes between Hendry and O'Sullivan such box office entertainment.

I definitely think it is for better that we can now access more snooker. This is the great strength of specialist sports channels, they can cover the breadth and depth of the sport.

jamie brannon said...

Dave, It think you touched upon the point about the same style when you mentioned that Daniel Wells is a little different to some of the younger breed emerging, in that he mixes in some safety, more than his contemporaries.

Anonymous said...

Ah, happy memories of Ceefax!

Anonymous said...

Jamie, were you even born in the 80s lol?

I remember the European Masters, there was only enough room for about 50 people to watch. People who say the standard has gone through the roof need to think back to the turn of the century snooker: the 1998 Masters final; the 1999 world semi; the 2003 British Open; the 2004 Masters final to name a few. All great matches that surpassed the standard we regularly see in finals these days. That was the true golden age, and as you eloquently put it Dave, we have only realised it now it is over.

Anonymous said...

Ah yes eurosports blanket coverage except when there's skiing on!!

kimball said...

Good post Dave,
nobody can argue about the"big four"+ Steve Davis and their total dominance of the sport, winning more than 80% of all ranking- tournaments over a very long period and yes, it was a golden age, followed with what promised to be remembered as the dark ages.
The professional sport survived by a whisker and a lot of luck and to me,the turningpoint will always be the 2003 Wch, covered live by e-sport and all Ken Dohertys dramatic matches that had a (for e-sport)huge aduince and (not so well known) ment a turning point for a struggling sports channel!
Sir Rodney Walker bagged a 3-year
contract keeping the sport on track.Then comes China Open and Ding Junhui and another five year contract and finally Barry Hearn.
Snooker is now (at last) recognised
as a sport in the UK,with all the benefits that follow and might eventually be part of the Commonwealth Games and in 20 years
even be in the Olympics.
With snooker making good inroads in
all muslim countries there are actually only India that need to open the gates for young people to
try the game.
Forget about the Americas,great if you get a foot in but probably not worth the effort.
So the story around the corner is hopefully "the Renaissance of the Snooker game"!

kildare cueman said...

The golden era for standard was 95-05 I feel, when the "class of 92" were making their mark.

We know that commercially, the golden years were roughly 82-89. This would suggest that the inrease in standard is a direct legacy of a commercial boom.

This is not surprising. The more that watch, the more that will play. I expect the standard in 4 or 5 years to go through the roof as more young players take up the game as a result of watching it on television, now that we have somebody who can push snooker forward.

Anonymous said...

David, i am a Hendry fan and i do not like Ronnie one bit, but i accept he is a fantastic snooker player.

This blog made me SMILE. Yes smile!!

great snooker is great snooker, no matter the players.

these days a lot of people call themselves snooker fans when theyre really only interested in one player (their fav)


Anonymous said...

The future of snooker is, Allen, Trump, Cope and some of those Chinese wildcard children I saw last week in The World Open in Hayling Island.

Anonymous said...

I think the jury is still out on Cope. I know he has off-table problems, but personally I don't think his tactical game is up to much either.

Colin M said...

Nice article Dave. One other forgotten final was the 72 WCH between Higgins and Spencer. I believe your colleague Clive was there. Could you get him to do a write up of his memories of this match, for posterity?

Dave H said...

We've done a piece on that final in the March issue of Snooker Scene

Claus said...

Thanks for reminding me that I'm an old spoiled brat, Dave! I can't imagine the outcry if such untelevised tournaments ever occured again.

But still... If I have to stream the match on my pc because Eurosport, after a week of coverage, ditch the final for yet another batch of skiing I find myself being immensely irritated!

Such are the times we live in my friend.

Anonymous said...

More funny enough, the final qualifying round for the Crucible in that year was also held at the same hotel in Torquay just after this match.

Some players were definitely benifit from the arrangement such as Steve Davis, as they were more adopted to the scene.